Creative and tech solutions for Edinburgh’s refugees

Earlier this year my friend Alistair Dinnie got in touch to float an idea. Alistair, Refugee and Migration Programme Manager at Edinburgh Council, had given a talk to a group of people in Edinburgh who are interested in supporting refugees and other new migrants to settle in the city. The main thing Alistair was thinking about was how information on settling in Edinburgh can be put together so it is useful and useable to those coming to a totally unfamiliar place. A woman approached Alistair after his talk and suggested he look to Germany to see how they are creating smartphone apps to help newcomers integrate. Alistair got in touch with me to discuss how we could explore technological solutions locally and linked me with the woman who approached him, Rachel, who is working with others to set up a City of Sanctuary in Edinburgh. I linked Rachel with Andy Hyde, formerly of the ALISS team and top notch organising via networking ensued.

Many months and many emails later, we are taking links further and have organised an asset mapping event being held in November. We recognised early on there are a large number of disparate organisations and interest groups in Edinburgh that do or will be able to support new migrants so the event in November will be an effort to actually map out services, assets, activites and resources and to capture local knowledge. While the event itself is interesting and exciting, thinking about the potential use of the data and information that is produced during the mapping is especially exciting to me. What sorts of digital outputs or artistically creative things could be made from pen to paper maps, written lists, ad hoc drawings and scribbly notes?

This is a shout out to anyone in creative industry or tech who is interested in making cool things with the information that comes out of the mapping day. Sign up for the event here and help us think about what is possible. Alternatively comment here, get me on Twitter or email me if you want to talk one to one.

It will all be OK, right?


It’s that time of year again, the time during which I roll out all the reasons and excuses for not blogging regularly. I was making these excuses to the inimitable Dan Slee last week so he set me a six week blogging challenge to help me get over myself and I’m grabbing it. I’ve fallen into the crazy situation a lot of other freelancers fall into: you’re so busy advising other people to do a thing that you don’t do the thing yourself. For me that’s blogging and generally regularly creating and circulating great digital content for myself so let’s see if this gets me jump started. I’ve got a stack of disparate things to share and think out loud about. I’ll kick off with a personal update.

In the year and a bit since my last update, things have been great. My time as Digital Engagement Manager with the Scottish Government ended in the winter- I had to leave because I had hit the 23 month threshold for contracting in the Scottish Government. I had mixed feelings about having to leave; I *loved* the work I was doing but I could feel the organisation was not entirely ready for my mojo. So with a few quiet drinks with government colleagues, I was headed toward the world of financial insecurity in exchange for taking control over my working life.

The Fear

I had to set up a limited company in order to contract with the Scottish Government. I decided I would not look for a job after leaving the place and that I would give freelancing a proper go because I had the company all set up. This gave me The Fear which in turn motivated me to go out and try to smash it. But I didn’t know I might go about the smashing. I think I have a good reputation and I do have a strong professional network but the idea of articulating my offer, marketing my ‘brand’ and learning how to completely manage all my time and work was paralyzing (to this day I don’t have it all cracked.) Everything seemed urgent, too risky and every decision felt like it was probably wrong. The realisation about how much I had been rewarded for dependence as an employee hit me pretty hard too so all in all I was on a few steep learning curves.


Hesitating about an important life decision is annoying. My gut feeling was if I didn’t at least try to strike out on my own I would kick myself. I got to a point where I had to stop procrastinating because it was counterproductive, threatening my ability to pay rent and keeping me from being creative. Here I am nine months later working for myself out of the amazing Creative Floor at Codebase in Edinburgh. I’ve managed to land a few really fantastic projects and the confidence I need to pursue collaborations and business ideas is growing with experience. I still have an identity crisis (Do I promote me as me or am I my business?), I still struggle with quoting, business accountancy still scares the shit out of me and I still worry that next month I will be destitute. I have Imposter Syndrome. But I’m doing it and I have a some things in the works that I’m pretty sure you’ll be interested in. Watch this space…

Be #upfront

Mixed ideas

I’m part of a growing network of people who would like to make it easier for conference and workshop organisers to have a wider variety of speakers at their events and to help those who are less confident speakers gain the confidence to represent different points of view at events. It’s win-win!

Although I work alongside a lot of different people, I don’t often see them represented as speakers at events and recently I have been the only female on panels, speaker lineups and leading workshops. On one hand it can make me feel like the token but I have to remember that what I have to say is indeed valuable so token or not, I’ll own it anyway.

My pal Lauren Currie came up with the idea of #upfront. It’s a new approach to bring people together and to kick off a community for speaker curation that will bring different ideas, perspectives and conversations to events. Where people feel they would like to hone their speaking skills, #upfront is there for them too.

This isn’t some nutty fourth wave feminism stunt, it’s a slight dig at conference organisers who mainly feature homogenous panels, it’s not PC gone mad and it’s not lowering the bar. It’s an opportunity to open up discussion and facilitate strong links between people with different backgrounds.

Why mixing it up is important

Because science

Research here there and everywhere demonstrates the benefit of working and thinking in groups with mixed backgrounds. From this Scientific American article: ‘Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogenous groups. This is not simply because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.’

Because it’s right

I hope I don’t surprise anyone too much but the general population isn’t largely made up of cisgender white men. A lack of wider representation on a speaker lineup at events is alienating for a lot of people (including me) and, frankly, it’s getting boring. I challenge you to not do well to predict what will be said at the next all white man panel event you attend in your field or industry. It means we’re not really learning anymore.

Because it challenges status quo

I’ve had people tell me that all white man panels reflect the current state of management and leadership in most industries and sectors and that’s that. Unfortunately that may well be the case but who set the rule that the guy with the loftiest title is the most informed or most capable? From James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds: ‘Heretical or not, it’s the truth: the value of expertise is, in many contexts, overrated….the fundamental truth about expertise is that it is spectacularly narrow. However well informed and sophisticated an expert is, his advice and predictions should be pooled with those of others to get the most out of him.’ (pp 32-34)

Being an #upfront ally means recognizing privilege and handing the mic over to those who don’t really have a voice on the speaking circuit at the moment. Maybe that is the young person just entering the workforce (like Leila Willingham who spoke at Lauren’s latest upfront session) or maybe it is the non-white woman executive, the admin assistant, the local small business owner…you get the idea.

Being #upfront means you can help weave the rich stories and provide more insightful learning and knowledge to the people you speak to at larger events.

Call to action

If you would like to be upfront and don’t know where to start…

If you are a conference organiser and you want to be part of upfront…

…do one or more of these things

Tweet Lauren @redjotter

Tweet Leah @LockhartL

Share this message using #upfront

Email Lauren

Email Leah

Alternative metrics for public services

alternative metric

During the social indicator trend of the 1970’s, specifically in the US government, ‘Choices of indicators were not selected explicitly to address defined policy objectives, nor were they linked to policy proposals in areas where there was a public commitment to action. Indicators were not designed to characterize issues narrowly or to evaluate policies. The choices of what indicators to include may have represented results of negotiation among agency and social report staff but the task had not included public and Congressional debate. Thus, the implications of the indicators were neither salient nor known to these audiences. Moreover, there was no public obligation to examine the data during policy debate in a way that might have forced their linkage to issues.’

This is a quote from Judith Eleanor Innes’s Knowledge and Public Policy: The Search for Meaningful Indicators and it has helped me think through the idea of altmetrics for public services. In academia altmetrics is the practice of looking at the social and cultural impact of research publications by gathering data about citations from around the web- it is an extension of looking at the impact of research by the number of citations in research publications- but we can reimagine altmetrics in public services as citations made in different ways. Maybe something along the lines of… citations made is services accessed that made a positive impact on someone’s life or citations made is the sentiment from web and social media content created by citizens and stakeholders. See what I mean? Stick with me. I acknowledge these are not fully formed ideas but I think they have teeth and there are miles of space for discussion.

Some current national indicators, like ‘Widen use of the Internet’, are measured against the results of just one piece of research- the Scottish Household Survey (SHS). Of the 17,000 people asked to take part in the household survey, nearly 6,000 don’t follow through. The people approached to take part are as a random selection as possible in order to give everyone an opportunity to be selected. An issue, however, is the responses that are taken must be representative and for that reason, weighting is applied to the responses from profiles of people who tend to not take up the offer to take part in the research. For example, 60% of the interview invitations are taken up by older women with men aged 16-25 hardly taking part so the responses of men aged 16-25 are weighted as 1.2 of a response. The weighting of some answers may be considered representative in a traditional analytical community but how can government look at altmetrics for indicators like ‘Widen use of the internet’, which is ripe for near real time subjective data collection through agencies working largely with the populations who don’t take part in SHS. What creative alternative ways could other indicator owners tap into technology and digital tools that collect all kinds of data to complement single sources of information by which the indicator is measured?

Here are two ways we might look at altmetrics for Scottish public services:

  • Social listening: I’ve been talking about this for some time. Social listening and online community management are pretty standard in the commercial sector. Could this same kind of activity be carried out in public services to inform how well they are performing? It might not be so straightforward right now as social listening in government bodies is a grey area. Is it actually spying when government does it? What can we do to make the rules and expectations around public service social listening clearer? Would data and information from social listening be good altmetrics for public services?
  • Detailed data from public services: The creation and development of SCVO’s Good HQ could provide some incredible possibilities for using data to create altmetrics for national and local outcomes or indicators. The surge of open data activity in Scotland will also give us access to new information and creative ways to mash it up.

Though the social indicator movement has been seen by some as a failure, Innes says there is a legacy of the movement and that it helped clarify ‘more is required to inform policy than simply producing academically certified data and handing it to policy makers.’ Traditionally, at least at central government level, analysts have created a selection of indicators and outcomes based on things they know can be measured. As we go into a period of re-evaluating the Scottish National Outcomes tied up with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, let’s start thinking about the altmetrics that can be accessed to complement indicators and outcomes based on existing statistical research methods and topics. Let’s be creative and think about what we can bring into the mix. Something community based and dynamic, as real time as data can get and that can be used alongside traditional consultation as set out in the National Outcomes section of the Community Empowerment Bill.

Print magazines made me realise I’m kind of an asshole

ladies and mags

‘Could I please have a flat white and your wi-fi password?’

*side eye* ‘We don’t have wi-fi because we want people to talk to each other and not stare at their phones.’

And so began an exchange in a cafe near my flat. I’d just moved to a new neighbourhood which is packed with independent cafes, the majority of which deliberately do not offer wi-fi. Since then I have started noticing some things are slowing down and, in these times of information overload, getting back to the good old days of sharing stories and knowledge through beautifully printed artifacts or more slowly, carefully and thoughtfully and ad free online (see newbie info and news sharing social networks This and Ello as examples).

In the past two weeks I have had an unusual number of conversations about magazines and apparently lots of my pals are subscribing to magazines. Like the paper things you hold that has pages you turn. I don’t know why I am surprised, especially as I grew up in the 90’s devouring punk zines and more mainstream classics like Interview, Sassy, Ms and Bust (just to name a few), and I really miss sitting quietly focusing on the words and images in my hands and of course other people do too. This is not to say magazines have gone away since the 90’s but in my circles they’ve mostly gone online, content is expected to be free at all times and print has been reserved for art mags or hipsters. Since my friend Sarah put me on to Stack magazine magazine service and Offscreen magazine, I am seriously considering taking out subscriptions with them, however, I don’t pay for any content online and have never even considered it. I’ve made one donation to one podcast producer in my life despite podcasts being such a huge part of my every day. I immediately close web pages with too many ads on them even if I really want to see the content. Yeah, I installed ad blockers. Da fuq?

So the possibility of buying print content has got me thinking about how I don’t buy digital content and I can’t believe I’m one of those people.